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Russell Kirk Warned That Without Virtue, ‘Democracy’ Is A Dead End Here And Abroad


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The Federalist

While a handful of writers and thinkers before him had adopted the term “conservative” and promoted it in their writings, like Peter Viereck in the 1940s, it was the publication of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind in 1953 that brought the term into public parlance and prominence.

Michael Federici gives a brief but insightful introduction to the newly rereleased version of The Politics of Prudence, Kirk’s collection of essays first published in 1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The work attempted to present conservatism anew in an age now free from the ideological struggle of the Cold War.


Conservative Character

Federici notes that Kirk understood conservatism to be “a disposition of character rather than a collection of reified, abstract political doctrines. It is the rejection of ideology rather than the exercise of it.” This, too, is the understanding of conservatism laid out by the champion of conservatism in the 21st century, my former teacher Sir Roger Scruton.

This understanding may help one realize why conservatism fails as an ideology — because it is not an ideology. As Kirk humorously notes early on in one of the early chapters of this book, conservatives who attempt to ideologize conservatism make the first and most egregious error in understanding conservatism.

If, though, conservatives are united in “a disposition of character” and “rejection of ideology,” what is that “disposition” and what does the “rejection of ideology” entail?

Let us turn first to the character and disposition of the conservative as Kirk defines them. First and foremost, “the conservative finds himself in realm of mystery and wonder, where duty, discipline, and sacrifice are required.”

Second, the conservative accepts that the cosmos is governed by a transcendent moral order. This transcendent moral order serves as the basis of the mystery and wonder of existence, which makes possible the life of love. This disposition of love that guides conservatives is opposed to the modernist view of existence, “an arid and loveless realm” that “is a stage for the ego, with its appetites and self-assertive passions.” :snip:

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